Seasonal shift Posted on October 5, 2011

Autumn arrived yesterday, apparently from the Sahara, riding on a hot wind that crisped the leaves of unprotected trees and threw them around the garden. It also put a gleam on the pond which for a month has been a dismal sink of duckweed. At last it slid to one side and let the sky in.

The still hot days seemed like a fantasy. There were no garden suppers all summer – until late September. Is the climatic confusion on balance bad for plants? Are they like children that need a good routine and a story before bed? It has certainly been good for the grass. The leaves are scrunching on an emerald carpet. It rained enough at the right time and the growth has been ideally slow and steady for weeks.

I’m worried about our autumn colours, though. The best of the Japanese maples really catch fire in late October or early November. Ones in full sunlight are already looking a bit shrivelled. My favourite golden Acer japonicum (I won’t trouble you with its latest name) has been blowtorched, and in future articles I shall remember that the forest-dwelling vine maple, A. circinatum, really needs its forest.

We have just said goodbye to two trees. It can take years to realize that a tree has morphed from impressive to oppressive. I was reluctant to fell a big Lawson cypress, the golden ‘Winston Churchill’ – largely because my father was so devoted to ‘Winnie’. But its gleaming flat yellow fronds, beautifully overlapping to create a wonderful texture, were effectively blocking the view from the Long Walk to the fountain in the Water Garden.

Across the way, a Portugal laurel, also just 40 years old, had gone native, thirty feet high and suckering widely (this surprised me). Both went in a moment of decision that has changed the garden. We ground over their stumps and their space is already smooth and billiard green, completely dissolving the old sight-lines so I feel almost lost in the space. The new monument, formerly hidden by the cypress, is a more-than-respectable Syrian juniper, a broad thirty-foot pillow of the subtle juniper grey that Getrude Jekyll loved. How shall I bind it into the picture? It needs an anchoring block of soft foliage. Another maple?

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